Many of the questions, ideas, and suggestions that have been posted on the Crystalfontz forums have provided me a rich source of material that I have turned into reality. You guys and gals in the CF forums have had some great ones! Much better than mine, quite often. One such post got me thinking recently. Wouldn't it great to able to break the limitation created by that USB cable and have a wireless solution for your Crystalfontz display?
The possibilities for use of these LCD displays would increase greatly. Trapman, in his post I mentioned above, and wiszmaster in his post, would be able to set up a CF display locally near their aquarium and be able to manage that display clear across the house. An IT administrator (or home user) could setup a series of displays in his office and have a very informative visual display of server (or home computer) information right in front of him. For the Windows Home Server users (especially those who have headless servers "tucked" away in a closet), you would be able to display HW/SW information that would not be easily obtained otherwise. A series of screens that I developed for my WHS can be seen here in the wgs forums. My CF-WHS project can be found here.
One of the devices mentioned in the post I linked above was a Silex SX-2000WG+ USB to Ethernet Device Server. This device breaks the USB wire limitation. This device also breaks the wired Ethernet limitation, as it is a wireless device. This could be very useful, if it worked.
Crystalfontz displays, and many of its competitors, make use of a Virtual Com Port to USB converter driver made by Future Technology Devices International Limited (FTDI). I was somewhat apprehensive if this driver software would be able to interface with USB to Ethernet converter software. Lots of "converters" there!
I really wanted to try out this device, but I decided I better contact Silex to get their opinion on compatibility. I received an email from them a few days later. Their response:
There are a vast amount of different USB devices on the market.Oh well. No pain, no gain. I opened up my wallet (credit card, of course!) and ordered one from TECHeGO. Several days went by and I had not received the item. I contacted them and the order must have gotten lost in their system. I received it Overnight FedEx! Now, that is service!
We are constantly hearing from customers who tell us that they tried our server with some device or another and that it worked great. There is also the occasion that something doesn't work well or not at all but that is the exception not the rule. Generally, if the USB driver is a standard written driver, then it should work. If there is something odd about their implementation of the driver then there may be problems.
If you would like to try it then, we would love to hear your feedback.
There are many online retailers who sell this product. Pick one that has a good return policy.
OK, enough of the boring intro stuff. Does it work? You have to read on to find out!
I removed the Silex box from the shipping package, opened it up and removed the contents. As can be seen below, the physical device is quite small which would make it easy to hide, if so desired. Basically, it has the appearance of a small wireless modem/router.
Hooking up it is quite simple. Plug in the power cable. If you have one device, simply plug the USB cable from that device into the Silex device. If you have multiple devices, you will need a USB hub and an extra USB cable. The complete installed setup for my use is shown below.
Getting from the first set of pictures to the last set of pictures is not as easy as it might seem by looking at them. There is quite a bit of work one needs to do to get from Point A to Point B. This is not a plug-n-play device. There is software to install, and device configurations to be made. And I will repeat, this is not not a plug-n-play device. I am like most American males. Read the directions only as a last resort. I guarantee you, you will need to read and follow the directions. I did have problems getting the device configured, but these problems were mostly not a result of the Silex instructions. They were mostly a result of my sometimes near stupidity in putting the correct information in the appropriate places. Regardless, you do need to know your way around your computer's networking and firewall options. And what firewall you use.
So, let's get the Silex device ready for use. You may have noticed that the back of the device has an Ethernet port. If so desired, you *can* use this as a wired server, but why would you? After all, it is a wireless device. Well, as with most wireless modem/routers, you do need to configure the device. And it almost always requires a wired connection to do this.
The first thing you need to do is connect it to your network and power up the device. After that, insert the CD into you CD/DVD drive and let it autorun. From here, you will need to run the server setup and install the associated software. Here is the setup/install, screen by screen.
Silex tells you in their Setup Guide to disable your firewall (temporarily) prior to the installation. I did in some cases, not in others. It depends somewhat on what firewall you are using. Just do it and re-enable it once you have successfully completed the install.
From the opening screen, click on Device Server Setup. Then, click on Wired.
Click on Next. Click on Yes.
Highlight the Silex SX-2000WG model and click on Next. Click on "Get an IP Address Automatically" and click on Next.
Pick your router from the list, insert your Network Key (both places) and click on Next. One bit of information here. The Silex device uses Channel 11 and the option to change Channels in the Silex device setup is grayed out. My advice: change your wireless modem/router to Channel 11.
"Confirm" your Configuration Parameters and click on Execute.
Make sure the Yes radio button is highlighted and click on Finish.
Here is where you install the software that will interface the Silex device to your computer. Click on Next. Click on Yes.
Choose the default location (or change it if so desired) and click on Next. Click on Next.
Click on Start. Click on Yes.
Click on Restart. Make sure you have any other work saved!
That is it! For the most part. Part of my stupidity came into play here. I originally used the Network Key for my old modem/router. I could see the device wired, but not wireless. It actually took me a few retries before that *dim* light bulb came on and I finally figured out my mistake. Garbage in, garbage out...
In some cases you're done, and up and running. It all depends on what firewall you are using. For me, I had no problems when the OS was using its built-in firewall. Some of the computers in my home network use Microsoft's OneCare. This is free to me, as my ISP just so happens to be Microsoft.
So, if you happen to use OneCare, here is what you need to verify and/or do. Open up OneCare from the Taskbar. Click on Change Settings.
Click on Advanced Settings. Scroll through the list and make sure that SX Virtual Link is in the Allow list. If not, add it.
Click on the Ports and protocols tab. You will need to add 2 entries, SXUPTP(IN) and SXUPTP(OUT). Click on the Add option for each new port.
Make sure you enter the information for both ports *exactly* as shown below. This was my next problem. I had one of them set for TCP (or vice versa). It took me a bit to figure this out, also. If you don't enter the information correctly, it will not work!
Click all the various OKs and close OneCare. You are done! Well, not really. It is now time to add devices to your Silex server.
In my situation, I had 4 CF displays to hook up the SX-2000WG. I dug out one my USB hubs and plugged the CF units into the hub. Make sure it is a powered hub! The Silex device does not provide power to a USB device. At that point locate and execute the Silex SX Virtual Link Program from the Start menu.
It will locate itself in the Taskbar. I do not remember now if the program window comes up the first time or not. If not, click on the software icon in the Taskbar. You will see a window similar to what you see below.
If all went well, you will see the Silex device, with its little "wireless" icon. If you do not, go all the back to beginning and start over. Based on the number of screens and a restart, do you really want to do that? Do it right the first time! If you have problems, use the Help menu in this program. I found a lot of useful information there to help me through my mistakes.
Assuming all went well, I would go right to Options and make sure it is setup to Add to Start Menu, and Start Minimized.
Back into the main screen, and again assuming everything went smoothly, click on the + button next to the device icon. You will a list something like what you see below.
I say somewhat in that I have previously configured my devices. At the time I took this screenshot, I had 3 displays added to Favorites on this computer and 1 on my WHS computer. When you right click on each item, you are given the option to add it to Favorites, which is what you should do. That is what the little purple star tells you beside each device.
Click on the Favorites tab. Right click on a device and select Properties. Click on the Optional settings tab. Make sure that the SX Virtual Link mode at startup is set to Initiate auto connection. Click on the OK.
Back in the main screen, highlight your device and click on the connect button. Do this for however many devices you may have. If all went well, you now have the equivalent of having your CF displays (or other devices) hooked up directly to a USB port on your computer. Ya-hoo!
At this point, minimize the Link software. Clicking on the X will close the program and you will lose your links.
Go to your Crystalfontz CrystalControl2 software, configure your module and add any screens you wish. Whether in the same room or clear across the house! The CFA-633 integral SCAB, which I use to control and monitor devices in my "water box", also works to perfection.
The following picture shows the CF displays that are in my water box and connected to the Silex converter. Please note that I took this picture in a dimly lit room, so that the displays can actually be seen in the pictures.